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Shanghai Punishes Primary School for Drilling Parents on Their Intelligence

By Chen Shaoyuan and Li Rongde

(Beijing) - Education authorities in Shanghai have ordered two private primary schools to apologize after it was revealed that one gave parents grueling IQ tests and another grilled students over the profession of their grandparents.

The move comes amid public uproar triggered by one parent’s social media tirade about how he was forced to take a sophisticated IQ test – on par with ones used to recruit civil servants – when he took his daughter for an interview at the city’s Yangpu Primary School.

It prompted thousands of comments over the growing inequality of access to quality education in China, arguing that better-resourced private schools increasingly favored children from privileged backgrounds.

Yangpu Primary School, which reportedly administered the tests, said in a statement on Saturday that it was trying to collect information that will allow it to better reflect a student’s upbringing.

The Shanghai World Foreign Language Academy in Qingpu district was the other school hit by controversy. During interviews over the weekend, it asked prospective students about their grandparents’ professions and education levels, several parents said. In response to a Caixin query, the school said this was an optional question and wouldn’t affect its selection process.

The Shanghai Municipal Education Commission moved swiftly to punish the two schools by cutting their admission quotas for next year, without saying by how much. Private schools in China receive state subsidies and must adhere to certain government rules when designing curricula or enrolling students.

There are no explicit rules over whether parents can be interviewed or what questions are not allowed during recruitment interviews. But primary schools are barred from conducting tests, including IQ tests, to select students, and violators could have the following year’s admission quotas cut by up to 30%, according to the education commission.

Students in affluent cities along the east coast, including Shanghai, are deserting public schools for expensive private schools that offer after-school classes to improve chances of going to a reputable middle school and college later.

The number of students applying for a seat in a private primary school in Shanghai in 2016 rose by over 25% to 32,000 from a year earlier, according to official statistics. More than 30 students were vying for one vacancy at some elite schools, data show.

China is plagued by a widening education gap, in which students from privileged families have access to good education through expensive private schools, said Wang Rong, head of Peking University’s China Institute for Educational Finance Research. At the other end, students from underprivileged families at poorly-funded public schools are falling behind, she said.

A principal at a Shanghai-based primary school, who asked not to be named, told Caixin that she was also worried about private schools poaching experienced teachers from their state-funded rivals.

To narrow this inequality, Chinese legislators recently revised a law for private schools banning for-profit schools from offering classes from grades one through nine.

The new law will come into effect Sept. 1. It is not clear how private schools will be affected by the legislation because local authorities haven’t offered details about how they would enforce the law.

Contact reporter Li Rongde (rongdeli@caixin.com)

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